FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

How much does a solar energy system cost, and how much will I save on utility bills?

This is the question, but it’s the same as asking “how much do cars cost”? What kind do you want? How much do you want to save?

There are numerous factors that go into the cost of a solar array for your home, including the state you live in, the size of your electricity bill, the direction your roof faces (South vs. North), and so on.

Unfortunately, there is no single or simple answer. But a solar rebate and other incentives can reduce the cost of a PV system. This cost depends on a number of factors, such as whether it is a stand-alone system or is integrated into the building design, the size of the system, and the particular system manufacturer, retailer, and installer.

It is also difficult to say how much you will save with a solar energy system, because savings depend on how much you pay your utility for electricity or natural gas, and how much your utility will pay you for any excess power that you generate with your solar system.

You can check out our Solar Calculator to get preliminary analysis of your cost and saving.

How is a solar electric system designed, installed, and maintained?

You could install a photovoltaic (PV) or solar electric system yourself. But to avoid complications or injury, you will probably want to hire a reputable professional installer with experience in installing solar systems. PV systems have very few moving parts, so they require little maintenance. The components are designed to meet strict dependability and durability standards so they can stand up to the elements. However, they are fairly sophisticated electric systems, so installation usually requires the knowledge and experience of a licensed electrical equipment contractor.

How many solar panels do I need to produce enough electricity to run my house?

The size of solar system you need depends on several factors such as how much electricity you use, how, the size of your roof, and how much you’re willing to invest. The array size you need depends on your average electrical usage, climate, roof angle, shading problems and many other factors. To approximate the array size you need, multiply your average daily electrical demand in kilowatt-hours by 0.25. The result is the approximate size of solar array, in kilowatts, needed to meet your electrical demand. You can contact our system designer/technical support to determine what type of system would suit your needs.

Will a system produce enough energy to cover all my electricity needs?

It is important to understand that a solar electric system does not need to provide all of the electricity you need to be of great value. A small system that displaces an average of one-quarter to one-half of your average demand reduces your electric bill. With battery backup, it can deliver uninterrupted power to critical loads during utility outages for days or weeks. We are happy to provide you with a system that supplies 100 percent of your energy needs, but cutting your electricity by 40 to 50 percent is typically the most cost-efficient approach for home solar power.

How long do solar panels last?

The short answer? A really long time!

In general, most manufacturer’s warranties consider the life of the panel finished when it degrades to 80% of its original output. This doesn’t mean that the panel stops working, however – some newer technologies running at 50% might still outperform an older installation at 80%. Most of the manufacturer offer 10 years product warranty and up to 30 years of performance warranty.

What are the financial benefits of solar energy?

When you install a solar energy system on your property, you save money on your electricity bills and protect yourself against rising electricity rates in the future. How much you can save depends on the utility rates and solar policies in your area, but going solar is a smart investment regardless of where you live.

What is a grid-tied solar system?

98% of PV solar panels installed in the USA are grid-tied systems, meaning that the system is tied to the power grid (local electric power utility company). The solar power is added to the grid power, reducing the amount of power that must be purchased from the utility.

What is an off-grid solar system?

An off-grid solar energy system is where there is no connection to the utility company power grid. This type of installation requires a charge-controller, a bank of batteries and in most cases an inverter, so that electric power requirements can be met at night or during cloudy conditions.

How much roof space does a PV system need?

A typical solar panel of 300Wp will measure about 18 square feet. Depending on installation factors, the required square footage of roof space will be somewhat larger than simply the area of the panels. Based on your information, once our engineering department has determined the required angle, shading factors, etc. we can give you a more accurate number. You can also check out our layout service to provide you accurate system size.

What are the different types of PV panels?

There are currently four main types of solar PV panels:

  • Monocyrstalline — These are made from cells created by cutting thin slices from single crystal silicon block and are higher in efficiency, but also higher in cost per watt. They are easy to spot because they have a smooth even color, usually black.
  • Polycrystalline — These are made from cells created by cutting thin slices from polycrystal silicon block and are slightly lower in efficiency, but also lower in cost per watt. Polycrystal silicon is the “chicken nugget” of silicon, made by combining many individual crystals. They are easy to spot because they have an uneven color, usually blue.
  • Multicrystalline — A different term for polycrystalline. (We don’t carry this type of module at this time)
  • Thin film — These are made by depositing a thin layer of very finely powdered silicon (amorphous silicon) or other photovoltaic material, on a substrate. These are much lower in efficiency that crystalline cells, and somewhat cheaper per watt. They are a good choice for large ground mounted utility scale solar arrays where real estate is plentiful. Their low efficiency makes them undesirable for commercial and residential applications because they consume a large amount of roof space compared to mono or poly panels.
What are the different types of power inverters?

Power inverters convert the electricity your panels produce from direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC) power. There are three types of inverters: string/centralized inverters, microinverters, and power optimizers. Check out our blog post Selecting an Inverter.

How do I decide how large my PV solar system should be?

Typically, the best return on investment is when you target the average power in watts used during the month with the lowest electric bill. Most net metering programs do not let you carry forward a credit, meaning that when you produce more solar electricity than your total consumption, it is wasted. Actually it is not wasted, it is just given free to the power company who will sell it to someone else.

How are solar panels tested and rated?

PV panels installed in the USA must be tested to UL 1703 standard and in California, also to IEC 61730. They can be tested and certified by any NRTL (nationally recognized testing laboratory) like UL, CSA, ETL, TUV etc. For consumer purposes, the main rating to consider is the watts rating, which is expressed at watts-peak (Wp) which is the amount of peak power produced under STC (standard test conditions).

How much power will a solar PV system produce?

You would calculate the total production of a system by determining the annual production of a single panel and multiplying it by the number of panels, then reduce this value to account for inefficiencies. A professional approach would be to use a calculator like PVWatts or RetScreen. This approach will consider the NASA data for insolation at the location, the expected weather and temperature conditions, the orientation (angle and azimuth) of the installation and other factors.

Each system will produce a different amount of power based on the system size, orientation, insolation, etc. A quick look at our solar insolation map will give you an idea of average annual sunlight conditions for your area. A quick, free telephone or email consultation with our sales team will help you be able make a good estimate of your potential. Just give us a call.

Will my system work at night?

No. Sunlight must be present for your solar modules to produce power. At night, you draw power from your utility.

Will my system work on cloudy days?

Yes, though they produce less electricity. Under a light overcast sky, panels might produce about half as much as under full sun.

What happens during a power outage?

Grid-Tied type of system powers your home during daylight hours but does not provide power in an outage, even on a sunny day. Grid-tied backup type of system powers your home during daylight hours but also has a battery backup designed to provide power to your home’s critical loads during an outage, day or night.

What do the terms on-grid, grid-connected, grid-tied and off-grid mean?

On-grid, grid-connected or grid-tied means connected to the utility electrical grid. Our solar electric systems are designed as on-grid systems, meaning that they interconnect with your existing utility service. Off-grid refers to systems that are not connected to the utility electrical grid. An off-grid system must be custom designed by a solar power expert.

Does your solar system make hot water?

No. People often confuse our products with solar thermal panels that involve water circulating through tubes to be heated by the sun for swimming pool water heating. Our solar modules convert sunlight into electric current to operate appliances, motors, pumps and other devices.

How can I tell a water-heating panel from a solar electric module?

Solar electric modules are typically one to two inches (2.5 to 5 cm) thick with 32 or more three to four inch (7.5 to 10 cm) blue or black solar cells on the back of the cover glass. Solar water heating panels are generally much thicker and may have tubes connected to a flat black plate under the glass, or a black tank inside the collector panel.

Can I generate heat for my home with a residential solar electric system?

No. Our solar power systems are designed to provide electricity to run your lights, appliances and other electric devices in your home. Other solar technologies are designed to turn the sun’s light into heat instead of electricity.

How do I know if a residential solar electric system would work on my home?

Solar electric power works for most homes. Our systems are engineered to work with most roofing materials, in most locations where direct sunlight is available, in almost every region of the United States. You need a sunny place on your roof about 120 square feet or 11 square meters (10 by 12 feet or 3 by 3.67 meters) for our smaller systems, and up to 1,000 square feet (93 square meters) for our largest systems. Shading from trees or other obstructions can reduce the practicality of a specific installation. A south-facing roof area is optimal, but solar electric panels can be mounted on west- or east- facing roofs and still produce better than 90 percent of the power of a true south roof mounting.

Why is shade a problem?

Because of the wiring design of a solar module, all of the individual solar cells on a module must receive full sunlight for the module to work properly. If any portion of the module is shaded, the entire module power output-even those sections still exposed to sunlight-is lowered.

We do offer full “Shading Analysis” service to precisely size your solar energy system.

Why does it require at least 120 square feet (11 square meters) of roof space?

Each solar module is approximately 5.5 feet long and 3-1/4 feet) wide. The modules are always grouped in a set of four, and the minimum number of modules for our smallest system is twelve modules. This requires an area of at least 120 square feet (11 square meters).

Is my roof suited for solar?

About 60% of roofs are suitable for solar. If your roof is not suitable, you might be able to place the solar installation elsewhere on your property. There are many variables in determining if a roof is suitable for a solar system, but the three main ones are: orientation, shading and roof condition.

  • Orientation — Your roof should be facing South, West or East.
  • Shading — Solar panels need direct sunlight for best performance, but some shade during parts of the day is OK.
  • Roof Structure and Condition — This can be hard to assess, but generally speaking if your roof is in good condition and your home is less than 25 years old, you should be fine.

On average, you’ll need at least 300-500 square feet of roof space that is facing the correct direction, gets good sunlight and is in good condition. Complex roofs may require a more custom design, however current micro-inverter technology should allow for a successful design and installation.

You can order a basic roof layout and solar performance report or full shading analysis report through our design service to determine if your roof is suitable for solar.

If I have solar panels installed how will this affect my roof?

Current solar mounting hardware and techniques should cause no more harm or risk to your roof than any other ventilation duct or roof penetration.

How are rooftop PV systems mounted?

There are two primary mounting methods for PV systems on roofs:

  • Attached Racking — Uses roof penetrating hardware to mount PV systems on any type of roof. There are many types of attached racking systems for different applications, as shown in the images below. The number of required roof penetrations will depend on the roof structure, PV system design, and local building codes.
    • Advantages: Can be used on sloped or flat roofs and in more jurisdictions than ballasted systems.
    • Disadvantages: Can be more difficult to install than ballasted systems; faulty roof penetrations can reduce the weather-tight integrity of the roof.
  • Ballasted Racking — Uses heavy weights, typically concrete blocks, to anchor PV systems on a flat roof. Some hybrid-ballasted systems use a combination of ballast and roof penetrating anchors to fasten the system to the roof. The number of roof penetrations for these systems usually depends on how much weight the roof can handle in terms of ballast, and how much additional support the PV system will need to meet wind load requirements.
    • Advantages: Simple to install; requires few or no roof penetrations; hybrid-ballasted systems require less weight than fully-ballasted systems.
    • Disadvantages: Only applicable for flat roofs that are capable of supporting the ballast weight; some jurisdictions limit the use of fully-ballasted systems; may require more advanced wind-loading evaluations; hybrid-ballasted systems have an increased risk of roof leaks from faulty roof.
How will installing a solar PV system impact my roof?

A rooftop PV should have no negative impacts on a building if installed correctly. Building owners’ key concerns about PV systems typically include the potential impact PV may have on roof integrity (.i.e. risk of water intrusion or other damage), roof warranties, building permitting, and business operations, however, all of these risks can be mitigated or eliminated through proper planning.

Will a rooftop PV system impact roof drainage, or maintenance of other rooftop systems?

No. A proper roof assessment should avoid any roof drainage routes and existing rooftop equipment, and design the system to ensure drainage is not impacted, and access is provided to all rooftop systems to allow for proper maintenance.

Will a rooftop PV system increase the risk of roof damage from large snow/wind loads?

No. The solar installer should conduct a roof assessment to evaluate the roof’s structural integrity, and design a PV system to meet snow and/or wind loads specified by local building codes. These designs must receive approval from the local building inspection authority.

Will PV increase the risk of fire or impede fire fighters’ ability to extinguish a fire?

No. Reputable PV installers should design PV systems in accordance with recognized fire codes that identify best practices for rooftop PV systems. The fire code set-back (clearance) requirements can also be obtained from city or county building departments. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has published leading guidelines on PV system installations. Many PV installers will also share PV system designs with the local fire department, to ensure the fire department is aware of the PV system and approves the design.

We do offer full system layout and design services.

Who is responsible for the warranty, and code compliance of my roof?

Under a TPO or host ownership agreement, the solar installer will be responsible for designing and installing the PV system in accordance with applicable building codes. Generally, a reputable solar installer will also work with the original roof manufacturer for a given building to ensure that they install the PV system in a manner that does not void the roof’s original warranty. After the PV system is installed, the roof manufacturer will inspect the system to confirm that the system meets the approved design and that the roof warranty remains intact. Any damage done to the roof during installation will generally be covered by the solar installer’s workmanship warranty. Building owners should ensure that a solar installer provides a suitable workmanship warranty prior to installing a rooftop solar system.

What happens if I need to replace my roof?

Before installing a PV system, the owner or solar installer should conduct a roof assessment and determine if the roof will need to be replaced during the life of the PV system. Typically if the roof will need to be replaced, building owners are encouraged to replace it prior to installing the PV system.

What if I need a new roof or am building a new house?

This is the ideal situation for installing solar. Before laying the roof, you can install flashable mounting brackets that provide the highest level of protection from leakage.

Do I need to have the roof renewed before the solar panels go on?

When you install a solar array it does add quite a bit of equipment on top of the roof: the entire scaffolding for the panels, wiring, etc. This means that any roofing projects should be taken care of before the panels go up, if possible. The solar energy system itself is very lightweight and it is generally less than 3 pounds per square foot.

How will solar affect the aesthetics of my roof?

Having solar panels installed raises the value of your home, saves you money, and gives a modern look to your house. The effect of the installation to the roof is minimal and when installed, panels don’t create noise, not even in windy conditions.

Besides the traditional blue color, there is a possibility to choose black panels for those who desire an appealing technological look while maximizing efficiency.

Can I add reflectors or mirrors around the solar panels to increase the power they generate?

No. Our solar panels designed for use in direct sunlight only.

What other options do I have if the system cannot be mounted on my roof?

If a roof-mounted system proves impractical, a ground-mount, trellis or pergola application may be an option.

If I rent a home or apartment, can I still get a system?

No. Solar electric systems are available only to property owners. The installation of a solar electric system involves the property owner entering a contractual agreement that includes a potential property lien (called a mechanic’s lien).

What is net metering?

Net metering measures the difference between the electricity you buy from your utility and the electricity you produce with your solar energy system. Under net metering, any excess electricity produced by your solar energy system is delivered back into the utility grid, effectively spinning your meter backwards. Your meter spins forward when your solar energy system is not producing all of the electricity you are currently using. Your electric meter keeps track of this net difference as you generate electricity and take electricity from the utility grid.

Do all states require utilities to offer net metering?

Many, but not all, states require utilities to offer net metering, but the size and technology requirements vary. If your state does not provide for net metering, you can still use the electricity in your house and enjoy the benefits of clean reliable power from the sun. However, you must purchase a second meter to measure the amount of electricity your system produces and make special arrangements with the utility to receive credit for excess electricity produced by your solar electric system.

Are government incentives available to reduce the price?

Yes. State agencies and municipal utilities offer rebate and incentive programs for homeowners and small businesses to promote the installation of renewable energy equipment such as ours. Incentives can cut the cost of your system in half, saving you thousands of dollars.

Can the modules withstand high winds and hail?

The panels are supported by our roofer-designed mounting system that has been tested to withstand 125 mph (200 kph) winds and can work on almost every type of roofing material. Our modules can withstand one-inch (2.5 cm) hailstones at 50 mph (80.5 kph).

How can I tell how my system is performing?

The production meter as well as LCD screen on String Inverter can tell if system is producing. Micro-inverter has capability to connect to your wifi system and provide system performance data via desktop or any mobile device connected to internet. You will be able to manage your household usage like never before.

What maintenance does the system require?

You should go years without problems. The batteries may need replacement every five to 10 years. We recommend that the installer do a system check once a year, just to make sure everything is performing, as it should. If it is convenient, you can hose off the modules two or three times a year.

Do I have to buy a service contract?

No. We do not offer an annual service contract. Your installer may offer a service contract for regularly scheduled checks of the system output and wiring.

How much does the maintenance cost?

Since the maintenance required is very low, your cost should be minimal. Most of the related system components should last for many years without problems. The batteries in the residential system may need replacement every five to 10 years.

Do I need a building permit?

Most of locality generally don’t require building permit for small residential system but we always advise to check with your City/County building department. You will need electrical permit at minimum.

Do I need permission from the local utility to connect my solar system to the grid?

Yes. The local utility has rules and procedures that must be followed to connect any generator to the grid safely and legally. These rules are generally based on national standards with which our systems comply. Your dealer will help you with the documentation and procedures.

Do I need approval from my homeowners’ association?

Some homeowners’ associations have rules regarding the installation of anything on your roof or grounds. If you belong to a homeowners’ association, consult your covenants for details. Many states prohibit homeowners’ associations from restricting solar devices.

Can I have a solar electric system on my house and still be connected to city power?

Yes. In fact, our systems are designed as on-grid systems, meaning they are designed to interconnect with utility power.

Can I be totally independent from the utility?

Our solar electric systems are designed to interconnect with existing utility service. Off-grid systems must be custom designed by a solar power expert.

Isn’t solar expensive? How much do solar panels cost?

In a word: no. Solar is quickly becoming mainstream technology and over the last 7-years or so, the price of solar panels has fallen by 80%! The biggest benefit of solar is that you can lock in years of predictable and affordable power (the sun’s energy is free after all), and the biggest hurdle has been costly equipment.

With the dropping prices, more efficient permitting and installation processes plus innovations in financing – solar is more affordable than ever.

Are prices going to drop quickly in the near future? Is it better to wait?

While it is likely that prices will continue to decline slowly, a much bigger impact on the final price you pay are the incentives. The biggest and most effective incentive is currently available only until the end of 2020, such as ITC 30% Federal Credit.

What are the environmental benefits of solar energy?

Solar power, like other renewable energy resources, has many environmental and health benefits. Going solar reduces greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to climate change, and also results in fewer air pollutants like sulfur dioxide and particulate matter, which can cause health problems.

How do I find out how much I pay for electricity?

The easiest way to find out how much you pay for electricity (and how much electricity you use per month) is to take a look at your utility electricity bill. Review guide to reading your electricity bill to find out exactly what to look for.

How do solar photovoltaic (PV) panels work?

Solar panels absorb the sun’s energy throughout the day and convert it into direct current (DC) electricity. Most homes and businesses run on alternating current (AC) electricity, so the DC electricity is then passed through an inverter to convert it to usable AC electricity. At that point, you either use the electricity in your house or send it back to the electric grid.

Do my solar panels produce power when the sun isn’t shining?

The amount of power your solar energy system can generate is dependent on sunlight. As a result, your solar panels will produce slightly less energy when the weather is cloudy, and no energy at night. However, because of high electricity costs and financial incentives, solar is a smart decision even if you live in a cloudy city.

What happens if there is snow on solar panels?

Solar panels convert sunshine into power, so if your panels are covered in snow they can’t produce electricity. Snow generally isn’t heavy enough to cause structural issues with your panels, and since most panels are tilted at an angle the snow will slide off. If snow does accumulate, your panels are easy to clean.

Can I go off grid with solar panels?

When you install solar panels on your property, you will still be connected to the grid. This allows you to draw from the grid when your system is not producing all of the power that you need, and send power back to the grid when you produce more than you use. It is possible to go off the grid with a solar energy system that includes battery storage, but it will cost significantly more and is unnecessary for the majority of homeowners.

Will I still receive an electric bill if I have solar panels?

Unless your solar energy system includes battery storage and you are fully off the grid, you will still receive a bill from your utility. However, you can dramatically reduce your bill, or even cut the amount you owe to $0, with a solar panel system that matches your energy use.

What happens if I sell my solar house?

If you own your solar energy system, your solar house will sell at a premium: Studies have shown that solar increases property values.

How do I choose a solar installer?

There are a few criteria that everyone should use when choosing a solar installer. Confirm that they are certified, licensed and insured, have relevant experience, and can provide references. Meet with your solar installer in person before you sign an agreement to ensure that you are comfortable working with them.

Should I get for a solar monitoring system for my solar panels?

If you are interested in receiving detailed information about how much energy your solar panel system is producing, ask our technical staff about solar monitoring system options.